Friday, July 18, 2008

The Independent Baptist Movement

In April through June of 2008, The Sword of the Lord ran four installments on "The Independent Baptist Movement".* In them Editor Shelton Smith insists on the importance of the ideals of the independent Baptist movement, that it is "a credible, viable force, a necessary player in today’s arena" and gives reasons for staying separate from the Southern Baptist Convention. The editor discusses an undefined entity he calls "the independent Baptist movement," which, for this article, is the Hyles-Rice branch of independent Baptists. Of this type of independent Baptist, The Sword of the Lord publication is a prominent voice. I do not object to the Editor writing to and for his constituency, but the average reader should understand that "the independent Baptist movement" is much broader and more diverse than "Hyles-Rice" Baptists. The distinctive feature of independent Baptists is that they are independent. They cannot be confined to any particular style of Baptist.

Despite the subtitle "Its Ideals, Its Integrity, Its Imperatives", much of the first three installments deal with the independent Baptist movement (IBM) in its relationship to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The IBM is contrasted to the SBC and the SBC looms as a constant threat. Many of the Hyles-Rice Baptists came out of the SBC and much of this faction of the IBM was incubated there. Underneath all this lies a tacit admission that the SBC is its closest relative, and the open acknowledgement that the SBC is the most likely siren to lure IBM preachers to shipwreck.

The editor explores the SBC's
conservative resurgence, lamenting the "take-over" was not a "make-over". Reformation often is not restoration. Smith offers 16 reasons why IBM preachers and churches should maintain their distance from the SBC, many with which I agree. Among the diverse complaints are: "more ecumenical" and "less Baptist" than ever before, "a growing problem with five-point Calvinism," "very few pastor-led churches," "a major deficiency in evangelism," and "a sizeable denominational bureaucracy."

While there may be a crippling denomination bureaucracy in the SBC, the editor fails to acknowledge that some independents have developed their own miniature systems and acceptable man-made institutions. It may be technically true that "There is no national or international headquarters to which that church reports or answers. In other words, there is no denominational hierarchy or bureaucracy." But there are IBM organized fellowships, mission agencies & clearinghouses, seminaries & Bible colleges, etc.** The SBC may have been left, but not far behind. Another problem for young IBM ministers is that they often see little difference on the local church level, which the daily operations carried on much the same as in the SBC.

The fourth installment, for the most part, focuses on the independent Baptist movement and leaves the SBC to rest. This section looks at the IBM's image, ideals, infrastructure, imperatives, integrity and importance. IBM churches and preachers are touted as a distinctive people who are faithful to the Word of God. Yet, along with the editor, they apparently can't distinguish between a fundamental of the faith -- salvation by grace, eternal security, baptism, fiat creation, an inerrant Bible, separation -- and dispensational pretribulational premillennialism. And unfortunately the "distinctive" features that often make some of them unpopular and unwelcome is the display of arrogance, authoritarianism, negativity, and irascibility. But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye.

One strong emphasis in this article and among the Hyles-Rice movement in general is pastor-led churches versus board-run in the SBC. Both are scripturally deficient. Let them seek out and find the biblical example of
plurality of elders. Like the reformationists out of Rome, this IBM movement hasn't come out all the way back to the Bible (on this and other issues). One nearby incarnation of these "pastor-led local churches where the pastor is at liberty to be both prophetic and pastoral" includes an authoritarian dictator who has gophers to go before him to open doors and otherwise take care of his majesty's needs. Oh, certainly all IBM pastors don't fit that mold. Jesus said it shall not be so among you.

Much of Editor Smith's critique is valid. Independent autonomous local churches surely stand on solid scriptural ground. The call for separation from the world is needed now more than ever. Stay out of the SBC. Stay independent. And stay independent of any independent Baptist "movement"! If you have come out to be separate, be not content in mere separation, but "Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein."

* Appears to be the same or substantially the same as the hard copy
** Possibly more frequently than other legitimate movements, it seems that there is a predominance of "Doctors" in this branch of the IBM, no matter how much or little education he may have.

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